Ok – so I am breaking my own rules about spreading out my blog posts over time. Everyone who knows me knows that I am terrible at following rules. I blame my Montessori education for that…
Here is a report I submitted today as part of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s initiative to improve education:
Of course, we were supposed to answer specific questions, but true to form, I proposed my own ideas instead:
Three Initiatives for Ontario Schools
- Self-regulation is key in the early years
- Early years math – focus on numeracy
- Narrow the fundraising gaps among schools
Parents and educators looking for the key to the future academic performance of children should examine self-regulation. In contrast to early reading performance, which has not been shown to be related to later academic achievement, self-regulation is integrally linked to future success, not only in academics but also in health and prosperity (Diamond & Lee, 2011; Moffitt et al, 2011). Teaching and assessment should be heavily weighted towards fostering strong self-regulation rather than on academic achievement in the kindergarten years.
Recommendation: Evaluate self-regulation in kindergarten and intervene to boost these skills if they are lacking
To paraphrase George Orwell, “all math strands are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”
Why is early-years math important? Math is a cumulative subject, in which prior learning is the foundation for future learning. Gaps that emerge in achievement in the early years tend to grow over time. This has been dubbed “the Matthew effect” – strong students get stronger and weaker students lag increasingly far behind. On school report cards in Ontario, no priority is given to any one of the five math strands.
The gaps in achievement between the highest and lowest-achieving students are larger in the United States than in Canada. Over the past ten years, several major U.S. policy reports have recommended that among the five major strands: number sense and numeration, measurement, patterning and algebra, data management and probability, geometry and spatial sense, number sense and numeration should be the primary focus (NCTM, 2006; NRC, 2009). Simple game-playing with a mathematically accurate game board can generate strong gains in math achievement in a very short time (Siegler & Ramani, 2009).
Recommendation: Focus on number sense and numeration in kindergarten and in the primary years
Although in comparison to the United States, Canada has much less income inequality and less inequality in academic achievement between students of high-income versus low-income status, Canadian educators should not be complacent. Faring better than the abysmal performance of U.S. schools is hardly cause for celebration.
One area in which there is a legislative gap that can be closed by the provincial Ministry of Education is in fundraising by parents. It is widely known that parent-led fundraising in some high-income primary schools in Toronto generates between $50,000 and $100,000 in additional revenues for schools with between 300-500 students. These additional funds are used to purchase furniture (chairs, lunch room tables), programs (drama, arts, science), technology (smart boards for each classroom), and fund safety programs (safe arrival). Although there are some rules surrounding how these funds may be used and whether the school or the school board owns the items purchased with these funds, not all of these rules are routinely followed.
There is an opportunity for a province-wide initiative to recognize that parents can and should raise money for their child’s school but, at the same time, share the wealth with less-affluent schools. It could be mandated that 25 per cent of all funds raised be provided to a fund for less-affluent Home and School Associations/Parent-Teacher Associations to enable them to provide similar opportunities in less-affluent neighbourhoods. Although there could be an initial backlash against this, it should be remembered that this fundraising is done not in a private school, but in a public school, on property owned by the school board. The strongest argument for revenue sharing comes back to the students – altruism is a core part of each student’s education.
Recommendation: Introduce rules forcing revenue sharing among parent-led school associations.
BA (UWO), MA (Queen’s), AMI Montessori Diploma (FME), MEd (OISE)
Diamond, A., & Lee, K. (2011). Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4 to 12 years old. Science, 333, 959-964.
Moffitt, T.E., Arsenault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R.J., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Poulton, R., Roberts, B. W., Ross, S., Sears, M. R., Murry Thomson, W., & Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academic of Science (PNAS), 108, 2693-2698.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2006). Curriculum focal points for prekindergarten through grade 8 mathematics: A quest for coherence, Reston, VA: NCTM.
National Research Council (2009). Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths toward excellence and equity, Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics. C.T. Cross, T.A. Woods and H. Schweingruber (Eds.).Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Siegler, R.S., & Ramani, G.B. (2009). Playing linear board games – but not circular ones – improves low-income preschoolers’ numerical understanding. Journal of Educational Psychology. Vol.101, No. 3, 545-560.
Statistics Canada (2009). Canadian Nine-year-olds at School. Special Surveys Division, September 25, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 89-599-M, no. 6. Retrieved from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/bsolc/olc-cel/olc-cel?catno=89-599- MIE2009006&lang=eng#formatdisp
Other research papers on these topics: